Chapter 1, Part 5
The fantastic black horse-like creature that had been zipping to and fro around the mountain forest like an arrow ceased its movements the moment Tohru and Chaika vanished.
It was now standing as silent and still as a statue—completely different from its earlier behavior. Not even a hint of its earlier ferocity remained; on the contrary, its eyes had become hollow, and its level of energy was indistinguishable from that of a standing corpse.
With a rustling noise, a thicket of bushes forcibly parted to reveal the figure of a man.
On his small body he wore a cloak, olive brown with swatches of dark green mixed in. It blended in with the vegetation in this area, and wearing it made the man difficult to distinguish from the environment. The cloak masked his human outlines, making the disguise even more effective.
On top of that, the man was thorough.
His face and cleanly-shaven bald head were covered in paint mimicking the cloak’s pattern, and on his back was a bag long enough to conceal a greatsword within, similarly wrapped in a dark green and olive brown obi sash.
“They got away, huh…” the man murmured.
The paint on his face made it difficult to tell what kind of expression he was making. With no trepidation towards the unicorn whatsoever, he lined himself up next to it and peered down into the ravine—and the river below—that Tohru and the girl had jumped into.
“The preparations were insufficient, huh. Perhaps I should wait for Sir Gillette after all…?”
He muttered to himself as if gathering his thoughts.
“No. I won’t let this great opportunity go to waste.”
A white crack spread across the man’s camouflaged face.
The man had bared his teeth in a smile.
“Now then. Let’s finish this in one go, shall we?”
The man turned to the unicorn standing statue-still—and let down the bag he’d been carrying.
* * *
They must have only blacked out for several seconds.
Otherwise, they would have drowned without question.
The instant Tohru regained consciousness, he first checked to make sure his arm were still wrapped securely around the girl.
She was coughing up suds and flailing around wildly, but she was alive and appeared to be conscious. It was a stroke of luck that the girl had managed to hold on to the coffin; it had fulfilled its duty as a flotation device. Tohru had already figured judging from the noise it had made when it had dragged the ground, but it appeared that it had to be at least close to empty. It had more than enough buoyancy to support both Tohru and the girl.
Mustering all his strength, Tohru extended his other arm. There were various branches hanging down from trees, but he wasn’t at a distance where he’d be able to grab them. However, when the water level in a riverbank increased due to heavy rain, it wasn’t unusual to see the soil erode, exposing the tree roots underneath . With this in mind, he was eventually able to grab the root of a tree despite the force of the raging river and successfully pull himself, the girl, and the coffin back up onto solid ground.
Lying face-up on top of a riverside rock covered in moss, Tohru gasped in ragged breaths.
He was completely exhausted. He had the feeling that most of his stamina had left him.
A fleeting glance to the side and he saw that the girl was much the same; she was coughing and hacking violently. Even so, she checked on the condition of her coffin regardless—it must have been something very important to her. Then, slowly, she turned to face Tohru.
“Abrupt. Coercive. Excessive—”
But that was as far as she got.
The girl froze in place, and her eyes went wide.
The girl pointed in front of her.
Thinking that this could mean nothing good, Tohru got up and looked down at the rock where had been lying.
The rock…was dyed in the color of rust.
It was definitely blood. The river water trickling down from Tohru’s clothes and the blood flowing from the wound on his back had mixed, dyeing the rock a pale brown. Blood was different from normal pigments in that it didn’t become a light pink when mixed with water—it became a color closer to brown.
“Ah…” Tohru replied listlessly. “Looks like I screwed up.”
The girl came closer to Tohru, gazing at his back intently.
“Me. Protected me, reason?”
Tohru, of course, couldn’t see his own back, but he could imagine the damage. It didn’t seem like it had reached the bone, but he felt that he had some sort of gaping wound. He could sense that it was a straight line across his back, as if it had been inflicted by some kind of blade.
“Huh. What’s up with that…”
The girl then began to search her pockets feverishly, like she was looking for something. In accordance with the girl’s movements, water came splashing out from the pockets; however, it seemed like she didn’t find anything useful.
“…None,” she muttered dejectedly.
“Uh, no, you don’t need to…” said Tohru wearily.
After all, he knew his own body best. If he had continued to be submerged in the river, there was a chance that he could have died from blood loss or even frozen to death due to hypothermia. However, the wound hadn’t cut deeply into muscle or bone, and he understood the bleeding had already begun to stem.
“All those frugal meals have taken their toll, huh?”
His stamina was lacking. He had lost blood, and he had lost a lot of energy upon being exposed to the freezing river water. A tired, heavy feeling had fallen upon him. Not to mention, it had been a long while since he’d had a square meal.
“With this, escaping is out of the question,” Tohru said as if it was someone else’s problem.
It had been a life-threatening situation—yet neither his tone of voice nor facial expression displayed even one inkling of urgency. It wasn’t that he was overly optimistic or hopeful, either; that was just how he was.
“We’re no match for a Feyra—and especially not a unicorn.”
The girl remained silent.
Despite her earlier haughty attitude, she seemed like an idiot in some respects…but she was able to at least grasp the gravity of being chased around by a Feyra in the mountains.
“It’s useless. Probably best to give up. It’s a stalemate.”
As Tohru said this, he shrugged his shoulders. As he did so, pain from his wound shot up his back, and he winced.
“…Man, my life was a bore.”
Making that sudden judgment, Tohru muttered.
The girl’s eyes blinked as she finally spoke.
It was almost like she had never heard those words before.
Tohru nodded noncommittally, giving a wry smile.
“Well, yeah, that’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Tohru shrugged his shoulders again.
“Death. Not afraid?”
She pointed at Tohru after hearing that.
“Hm? Ah—let’s see. Saying I’m not afraid would probably be a lie, but—”
Tohru averted his eyes from the girl.
Why he did so was unknown even to himself.
“I don’t even know if it’s okay for me to be alive to begin with.”
He smiled a self-derisive smile.
“In…this kind of world.”
He didn’t know what to aim for.
He didn’t know what to wish for.
He didn’t want to do anything. Those desires had all completely vanished.
And even now, there wasn’t a single thing he wanted to become.
He didn’t have any clear wishes or goals. When he thought about it, he was merely continuing to live each day aimlessly, in an endless cycle.
Was there a proper occupation that suited him?
If there was, he didn’t know what it could be.
He could have worked for the sake of his daily bread, and when he had reached a suitable age he could have taken a bride, settled down in a small house in the corner of the district, and lived out those same average days throughout old age and until the day he died—yet he had no interest in spending his remaining time like that.
Just how much meaning did that really have?
Would it really be any different than dying right here?
For what reason was he even born?
He couldn’t help but think about these things. No matter how hard he worked, it wouldn’t amount to much. The amount that a single human could do by himself was minuscule at best. He would live and die without making any sort of mark on the world.
There was nothing he could do. There was nothing he could leave behind.
Living like an insect, or a beast.
A life goal.
A goal to work towards.
These things had certainly once existed for Tohru. But Tohru, who once had full confidence in his purpose, had it snatched away from him all of a sudden on that day.
That was why when it came time for Tohru to do something, he would always question if it was even worth doing. For a year, he had done nothing but wallow in depravity.
Tohru began to speak in a voice that bordered on sulky.
“There was stuff I wanted to do back in the day.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“But I don’t have the desire anymore. It’s all gone. Nowadays I just live life according to the laws of inertia.”
The girl—stared at Tohru for a while, keeping her head tilted to the side.
The girl finally said this as she sternly pointed at Tohru, as if she was commanding something.
“Again. Will find. Start now. Once more.”
The girl said this as if she was stating the obvious.
“It’s already too late.”
“Frankly, I don’t have any other special talents.”
He had once had a purpose for living.
He spent every day working towards that purpose.
He didn’t have the time to study other ways of thinking or any other techniques. Tohru was a lump of clay that had already been molded into the shape of a plate and then baked, so it was too late to want to become a teacup. Even if he was told to live his life differently, it wasn’t so easy.
Suddenly started pounding on Tohru’s back repeatedly.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, you idiot!?”
“Ah. Apologize. Felt unsatisfied.”
“‘Felt unsatisfied’, my ass!”
It might not have been a deep wound, but having that area struck was definitely still quite painful.
The girl suddenly pointed to herself.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Untalented. Same as you. Can do—very little.”
Saying that, she reached over to the coffin beside her and slowly opened it up.
Since the coffin had been able to float in the river, he figured that it had been empty— however.
Tohru’s eyes opened wide.
What the girl took out—was a steel device.
In an instant, Tohru speculated that based on its length, it might be some kind of mechanical spear…but no, this was different.
It was a long, long cylinder.
That base had been screwed into a mechanical apparatus.
There was a scope, used to adjust aim.
There was a wooden grip and a bipod, used to fix it to the ground.
It was—a Gundo.
It was a device that wizards used when they wanted to fire their magic. Just as cavaliers used swords and archers used bows and arrows, wizards used their Gundo. In other words, having a Gundo was proof that you were a wizard.
“You…you’re a wizard?”
The girl gave a small proud smile—and promptly got to work assembling her Gundo.
From the fact that it needed to be disassembled it was already obvious, but…it was long, so long that it even surpassed the girl’s own height. The cold, black steel and the warm, brown wood drew a strange contrast.
“This, all. Otherwise, useless. But…”
Lastly the girl unfolded the bipod and set it on top of the coffin.
“This. Can do much.”
Tohru narrowed his eyes.
He himself wasn’t a wizard, so he didn’t understand the details. However, he had heard a lot about the power wizards had.
Due to the size and weight of the Gundo, they required quite a bit of effort to operate, so they weren’t easily portable. Basically, they required the user to either leave it in one place, or at least have some really solid footing.
However–the power of magic was much greater than that of a sword or a bow.
Given a considerably long range and plenty of time, just one individual, with only one shot, could be said to have the power to level an entire castle. A few years back, the one whose death had ended the entire warring period—the one called the Demon King, the Taboo Emperor, Emperor Gaz the Great Sage—he was known by many names, but Arthur Gaz was said to have possessed magic so great that he had the potential to level entire mountains and dry up whole rivers.
“You mean to say that instead of running away from the unicorn…we can kill it?”
A bold smile appeared on the girl’s face as she nodded.
She seemed to have some degree of self-confidence in her ability as a wizard.
“However. During magic activation process—cannot move.”
Naturally—with that amount of power, wizards had been scouted out and recruited for war, but the majority of them lacked the capability to fight on the front lines. Instead, they mostly provided support from the back. Having to use a long, heavy Gundo while taking into account the various minute adjustments that had to be made for each particular location, it could even be said that the wizards were completely useless in close combat.
“First, let’s use surveillance magic to figure out where the Feyra is. Then, we can think about how to strike…”
That was all he had the time to say.
The girl froze in place.
Tohru heaved a sigh.
There was no need to turn around and look.
Clearly reflected in the girl’s pupils, which had grown incredibly large, was the scene behind Tohru—from amidst the trees, the figure of the horse beast had appeared.
Moruzerun, Moruzerun, Erumun.
Protruding from the top of the unicorn’s head was an organ often called a “horn” for convenience’s sake, and that body part was now emitting light.
It trembled on top of the unicorn’s long, thin face, the light flickering intermittently, but the light didn’t go out. On the contrary, the horn expanded on its own and began to draw a complicated pattern.
Seburun, Wamurun, Tourun.
Shunerun, Horun, Yarun.
It was—a magic circle.
That was the name given to creatures who could use magic.
Fundamentally, humans had to use Gundo to use magic. To be more precise, in order to use magic without a Gundo, an unrealistic amount of preparation had to be made. Feyra, on the other hand, could use magic with their bodies alone.
Turning around, Tohru fixed his eyes upon the girl.
“Can I buy you some time?”
“If I buy you some time, will you be able to use your magic?”
The girl nodded her head.
It wasn’t like wizards had to have a great deal of range or a shield to keep them from getting hit by the enemy. In other words…If Tohru could allow the girl enough time to activate her magic, they would both be able to survive.
“A Feyra with that kind of power…this isn’t going to be easy.”
Saying that, he pulled his large hatchet from his waist.
Of course, it was an edged tool, so it was more used for cutting one’s way through annoying vegetation in a mountainous forest area. It wasn’t really designed for hunting or combat.
However…this probably wasn’t the best time to be worried about that. It was the only thing he could use right now.
He had a hatchet—and a skill he had mastered.
“I am steel.”
The girl responded reflexively, but Tohru did not reply. He was already in a state of extreme mental concentration, so while he technically heard the girl, her voice didn’t reach his consciousness.
“Steel knows no fear. Steel knows no doubt.”
To be honest…there were parts that he didn’t remember that well, but even so the words continued to slip out smoothly from his throat and out his mouth. He had repeated and repeated it so many times that the words were ground into his consciousness. Even after several years of inactivity, his ability to recall it seemed to be just as good as ever.
Should he be delighted or depressed about that?
To tell the truth, the current Tohru didn’t know, but…
“When faced with my enemy, I hesitate not.”
It was some kind of “key”.
A key to a dangerous weapon that he didn’t normally use.
Each time he recited the chant, he understood that something inside his body completely changed.
“I am a weapon to destroy these.”
People who had skills and techniques drilled into them thoroughly, right down to the bones, for the purpose of battle, became weapons themselves.
It wasn’t a simple issue of leg or arm strength.
Their entire bodies—everything up to the nerves and physiological phenomena—was redefined and optimized for the purpose of combat.
Breathing for battle, heart beating for battle, only thinking about battle…a being like that was no longer human.
It was a weapon possessing human form and functions.
Their entire existence—everything they were—was now converged on one single objective, a tool for a solitary purpose.
However, that made living as a normal human rather difficult. The body was optimized specially for battle, but that meant normal human functions were rendered useless and unnecessary.
A tool was a tool. Nothing resembling a human remained inside.
To be captured by the enemy in this state would be a dangerous situation indeed. After all, appealing to reason, loyalty, or faith was something that only a human could do.
Therefore, the ability to return back to that human state was necessary.
An ability to switch back and forth between human and weapon.
There was once a group of people who considered this.
Then they actually turned those thoughts into reality—and they built up a clan where they could pass down the technique.
It was known as—the hidden technique, “Iron-Blood Transformation.”
All of the hair on his body stood on end.
The muscles that had been lying dormant within him awakened, and his nerves began to heat up into battle mode. In this moment, Tohru ceased to be Tohru.
He was now a single sword.
His breathing, his heartbeat, his thinking pattern, and everything else were all focused towards one purpose: to slaughter the enemy.
All emotions had vanished from his face.
No, more than that…to the girl, the unicorn or anyone else, it might have looked as if his entire physical form had suddenly changed color.
As a result of all the blood vessels in his body going into overdrive, a tattoo-like design had formed upon his body. The high-pressure energy that circulated around his skin was changing the rate that light was being refracted, so it looked like his whole body was emitting a phosphorescent glow—particularly areas that were easily influenced by blood vessel activity like the hair and eyes, which seemed to have changed color.
Red eyes. Red pupils. A red design.
Looking this way, the figure of Tohru looked like a monster in a human body.
Shunerun, Horun, Yarun.
The unicorn’s spell-chanting finished.
The magic circle that was being drawn by the tip of the unicorn’s horn revolved slowly and flickered as if it were breathing. As expected, this type of Feyra wasn’t one to be intimidated by something like a human changing color or appearance.
“Come and get me, you mule.”
Tohru readied his hatchet.
The dark horse’s outline became a blur.
In the next instant–
Thud. Thud. Thud thud. Thudthudthudthudthud!
The unicorn leapt at such a speed that it left behind an afterimage of its tail.
Its large, dark build weaved through the trees effortlessly, drawing a complex path as it approached Tohru. No matter how much jumping power it had, that kind of movement would normally be impossible, and even more so since its legs were kicking off from nothing but empty air.
This unicorn was definitely using magic.
While its magic was activated, it was able to use anything and everything as a foothold—even the air itself. It was a monster that could run along walls and ceilings if necessary, confusing the eyes of its prey as it attacked. Its body accelerated with each kick, eventually attaining the top speed of an arrow in flight. Being struck with those sharp tusks or large body at that speed would mean certain death.
The unicorn wasn’t aiming for the girl, but for Tohru.
It was already obvious from its ability to use magic, but the Feyra was overall smarter than normal animals. At the very least, it was able to understand human language. It probably saw Tohru as a more formidable foe, and thus was planning to deal with him first.
Tohru let out a sharp breath as he brandished his hatchet.
Using his left arm as well for support, he readied the weapon, but it crashed against the unicorn’s tusk in the next instant. Sparks flew as the tusk met the edge of the blade.
Of course, Tohru’s body mass wasn’t enough to stop the unicorn’s charge, so the dark Feyra’s body collided with him and they both fell into the river—however, there was not a trace of irritation or anger on his face. His expression remained calm and collected to the point of unease; he was analyzing internally the situation that had been put before him. He didn’t have time for superfluous things like “emotions”. Even calling the beast a “mule” earlier had been just a tactic to get it all riled up.
A unicorn’s hooves were not sharp.
Therefore it would either have to use a ramming attack with its body or a slashing attack with its tusks to do any damage.
And since speed was its most distinctive attribute, it would aim for a one-shot kill. Once Tohru knew that it was going to be aiming for his throat, he could block it no matter how much speed it had.
“You won’t escape.”
Tohru muttered as he twined both his legs around the unicorn’s neck.
The unicorn bellowed.
For a unicorn, underwater was most disadvantageous. Its ultra-high speed achieved through magic was enough to overwhelm any of the prey it normally hunted. However, movement in the water versus the air was severely limited—the water enveloping the unicorn resisted it. The result was that its speed was reduced down to basically nil.
“Now speed doesn’t make any difference!”
He was so close to the unicorn that speed was out of the question. Hanging upside-down from the unicorn’s neck with both legs, he raised his hatchet once again.
He was aiming for its jaw.
There was the sound of screeching metal.
The unicorn had bitten into the hatchet with its sharp jaws. It had turned its head forcibly and had quite literally eaten Tohru’s attack.
With this, Tohru’s only weapon was rendered unusable.
Tohru nodded his head as if confirming it himself.
Facing the interior of the unicorn’s mouth, he jammed the hatchet in with both hands.
“And now you can’t chant any of your spells!”
The core of the unicorn’s ability to use magic was definitely its horn, but the chanting was an essential component. Now, its jaws were preoccupied with holding back Tohru’s hatchet. If it carelessly opened its mouth, in that instant the upper half of its head could be sliced off from its body. Even if it was a Feyra, if its brains were separated from its body, that would mean instant death.
The unicorn’s bloodshot eyes glared hard at Tohru. Normal beasts wouldn’t be able to do this—but this one was definitely shooting daggers of hatred with its gaze.
“Now it’s just a battle of attrition.”
Tohru spoke with a tone void of emotion.
The unicorn could no longer use magic.
Tohru couldn’t let go of the hatchet.
It was like an endurance contest between two crossed swords. As fang and hatchet grated together, the river water carried them downstream.
I’m probably still at a disadvantage, though.
Tohru surmised this calmly, as if he was an innocent bystander.
All that moving around had caused the wound on Tohru’s back to open up again. If he stayed submerged in the river water, he would either bleed or freeze to death.
It went without saying that in terms of physical strength, the as-of-yet unhurt unicorn with its large body had the advantage here.